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Volume 974: debated on Thursday 29 November 1979

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the likely cost of exporting cereals grown in the EEC in 1980.

Cereals grown in the EEC in 1980 will be marketed mostly in 1981. No estimates have yet been made of the quantities likely to be available for export, or of the cost of such exports.

Is it not a fact that, on past experience, about £1,300 million will be spent on subsidising exports of cereals? Is this not, even to the most rabid Euro-fanatic, an absurd "Alice in Wonderland" situation?

The hon. Gentleman must recognise the natural conditions under which farming has to operate. If he looks at the cereal market and the export pattern over recent years he will see, for example, that exports of wheat have varied from 0·5 million tonnes to 3·5 million tonnes and exports of barley from 0·5 million tonnes to 5 million tonnes. These figures are the result of seasonal factors. What matters is that under the EEC we ensure continuity and the certainty of food supplies for consumers in Europe.

In view of that answer, and in view also of the reports coming out of Russia of the disastrous cereal harvest there, will my hon. Friend urge our counterparts on the EEC Commission to grant more restitutions?

Will the Minister have a word with his civil servants, because he, or his hon. Friend, gave me an answer on 9 November last, at column 362 of the Official Report, that the 1980 EEC Budget for cereal export was £1,121 million. Why was he not more frank in his first answer?

The hon. Gentleman should read the question that I was asked. It concerned the estimated cost. There is a great difference between the actual cost, which we do not know because we do not have all the figures, and the actual budget figure. The hon. Gentleman should know, from the questions that he asks, that the actual outturn on the budget is often different from the original budget estimate. I prefer to give the House the information that I have.